In the face of a threatened lawsuit by the National Rifle Association, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has formally advised Gov. Martin O’Malley that he can sign the bill next week without fear of any part of it being overturned in the courts.
In a detailed 25-page letter, the attorney general laid out the
reasons he believes all of the provisions of Senate Bill 281 that the NRA might challenge are “constitutionally and legally defensible.”
Among the provisions Gansler said federal courts would uphold are
a ban on the sale of guns classified as assault weapons, restrictions on the sale of gun magazines holding more than 10 bullets and licensing and training requirements for handgun purchasers.
“Senate Bill 281 was crafted carefully to balance the rights of
legitimate gun owners with the need for increased public and law enforcement safety from gun violence,” the letter says. “We are confident that the resulting legislation is constitutional and legally defensible.”
O’Malley is expected to sign the bill next Thursday.
If the legislation is challenged in court, as expected, Gansler’s
office would have the job of defending it. The letter shows that an important part of its defense would be a Supreme Court decision that was widely cheered by gun rights advocates at the time it was issued, District of Columbia vs. Heller.
In that 2008 decision, the high court struck down Washington’s
broad ban on possession of handguns in the home, finding that the law infringed on citizens’ Second Amendment right to protect themselves., However, the same decision also found that the Second Amendment is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Gansler said all of the provisions of the O’Malley gun bill, a centerpiece of his 2013 agenda, fall well within the definition of regulatory measures permitted by the Heller decision.
The attorney general’s advice comes as no surprise because Gansler, a Democrat like O’Malley, is a longtime supporter of gun control laws
whose office has consistently advised the governor and the General Assembly that they were on constitutionally solid ground in putting together a bill.
"We've always had their advice that this law is constitutional and this is just an additional confirmation of that," said Takirra Winfied, a spokeswoman for O'Malley.
Neither is it a surprise that gun rights advocates rejected Gansler’s reasoning.
Del. Michael Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican and a leader
of gun rights forces in Annapolis, dismissed Gansler’s reasoning – particularly the attorney general’s finding that neither assault weapons nor high-capacity magazines are protected under the Second Amendment.
“The attorney general over-bakes the cake in his argument,” said
Smigiel, a lawyer. “”He tries too hard to support a position that is
A call to the NRA for comment was not immediately returned.